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Paralympic rowing champion receives honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick

Pam Jones MBEDouble Paralympic gold medal winning rower Pam Jones (née Relph) has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Warwick.

Pam Jones has suffered from a condition called psoriatic arthritis from the age of seven, resulting in severe and permanent damage to some of her joints. Though she grew up with the condition she never allowed it to dictate her life choices. She took up rowing aged 20 and won a string of titles including four world championships and two Paralympic Golds.

Pam, who only started rowing in 2010 during her final year at university and missed her own graduation due to race commitments, was made Honorary Doctor of Science at the second of Warwick’s summer degree ceremonies on Tuesday.

She said: “I was really surprised when I first got the letter. Mostly because it seems like such a prestigious award and you hear about celebrities getting given honorary doctorates and you think ‘that’s amazing!’ So to be offered one myself, I was really overwhelmed and so excited.

“I am really honoured to be sharing in the experience of all the Warwick graduates because I actually never attended my own graduation ceremony because I was rowing. It didn’t fit with my racing schedule.”

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Although she has always loved sport, Pam hadn’t always intended on a sporting career. She had her heart set on becoming a Royal Engineer, but it was her debilitating condition – psoriatic arthritis – which cut short her army career.

She said: “I had wanted to join the army since I was about 14 or 15 and I was selected to go to Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College and I had to jump through various hurdles because I had the psoriatic arthritis and initially they denied my application because of my condition. But I was very determined and physically strong enough. And at the time [my condition] was in a very small way – I wasn’t really taking much medication for it. So I went to Welbeck and then got selected by the Royal Engineers to be a sponsored cadet through university.

“It was while I was at university that my condition deteriorated and I was discharged from the army. I was really gutted, but it opened up another opportunity. I never ever would have started rowing had I not been kicked out of the army.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. That was one of my first hurdles that I got over and it made me more resilient to future hurdles.”

After the enormous disappointment of being medically discharged, it was then that Pam’s rowing career began and she was soon catapulted into international competition and began to enjoy huge success in the sport.

She said: “It was just after I got discharged from the army. I didn’t have any direction because I didn’t know what else I wanted to do.

“At the time my sister was rowing on the national team as an able bodied rower and spoke to the Paralympic coaches [and asked whether I would] be eligible for Paralympic rowing. They got me down and classified me and it was a very quick turnaround. I went from career in the army, to absolutely no idea, to ‘if you train hard enough you might go to London 2012’, all in the space of about four months. I started rowing in my final year of university and graduated in 2011 just prior to going to my first World Championships.”

Speaking about the opening of the new Sport and Wellness Hub on campus next year and the importance of sport when it comes to personal challenge she said: “You don’t have to be the best netball player in the world to get something from the challenge of joining a netball team. Or even just going to the gym a couple of times a week. It’s something that’s hard. I’m an athlete that went to the gym every single day of her life for six years and sometimes I find it hard to go to the gym! It is hard and that’s why you do it. I feel like the benefit you get mentally from challenging yourself to push out of your comfort zone is so valuable when it comes just to life. If you want to do better at your job, be a better parent, be a better sister, all of those things can be helped by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and going and using a facility like you guys are going to have here next year can really help with that.”

With a degree in physics, a stint in army training and a string of sporting achievements to her name, Pam has conquered some very male-dominated arenas. Speaking about her role models when she was young, she said: “I have grown up in a very female dominated household, I have three sisters, no brothers and all our pets were girls! So that led me into automatically assuming that anyone that is bigger, better, fitter, stronger and more smart than me are women. I grew up in a house where it was just assumed that you had any opportunity you could want as a female and that has led me to take on these male dominated roles in life.”


Notes for editors:

Pamela Relph MBE - Hon DSc (Honorary Doctor of Science)

Pamela Jones (née Relph when she received her Paralympic gold medals) is a member of the GB Paralympic Rowing Team. She has suffered from a condition called psoriatic arthritis from the age of 7 resulting in severe and permanent damage to some of her joints. Though she grew up with the condition she never allowed it to dictate her life choices and played sport at a high level throughout secondary school.

She came to the attention of the GB Paralympic Rowing Team through Monica, Pam’s older sister who had represented Great Britain as a rower. Within a week she had been classified to compete as a Paralympic athlete. It didn’t take long for success to come and within 9 months of taking up the sport Pam became World Champion in the Legs, Trunk and Arms Mixed Coxed 4 (LTA4+) at the 2011 World Championships in Bled, Slovenia.

The following year Pam went on to win gold at London 2012 along with her crew. She defended her crown 4 years later in Rio. Winning gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympic games put Pam in the record books as being the only Paralympic rower in history who has won 2 paralympic rowing gold medals.

Pam has won 15 consecutive international races including four consecutive World titles at the 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 World Championships. The GB LTA4+ continued this winning streak and successfully defended the Paralympic gold medal won at London 2012.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to rowing.

20 July, 2018

For press information, contact:
Andrea Cullis
Media relations manager
University of Warwick
E:a dot cullis at warwick dot ac dot uk
DD: 02476 528050
M: 07825 314874